Somehow, the striking, rosy pink color of red snapper perfectly complements the lean, mild flavor and texture of its flesh. Your approach to cleaning snapper, which runs 2 to 8 pounds typically at the market, depends on how you plan to serve it.
To Bake Whole
In a sink, scale the snapper with the blunt edge of your filleting knife or with a metal fish scaler. Repeatedly scrape the skin until all the scales have been removed, including from the head, cheeks and wings -- the area under the head -- and then rinse the fish under cold water. The skin, which is edible, can be left on.
Insert the point of your filleting knife in the dorsal vent at the underside of the snapper, toward the tail, blade pointing forward toward the head of the fish. Press the knife into the belly about 1/2 inch, and draw the blade toward the head all the way up to the gills. Pull up the gill cover and trim where the gills attach to the head. Place your fingers in the body cavity and pull out the guts, from the gills to the back of the fish. Scrape out any guts attached to the bone, and rinse the snapper under cold water.
If you want to fry or bake fillets rather than a whole fish, gently insert the knife atop the backbone near the head. Make an initial cut from the head to the belly, just behind the gill cover and only through the top fillet. Follow with a second cut, gently probing the length of the fish, to separate the fillet from the backbone. Peel up the partially cut fillet, and then make repeated passes to remove the fillet fully off the bone.
To remove the second fillet, leave the snapper on the work surface and carefully slip your knife between the now-exposed backbone and the bottom fillet by making repeated passes along the top of the backbone from head to tail. Slice until the tail frees from the bottom fillet. Peel the backbone up and cut it off where it meets the head.
Remove the slender pinbones remaining in the fillets by pulling them out with needle-nosed pliers, or cutting them all out by creating a narrow, V-shaped channel with your knife.
With larger red snapper, you can save the backbone and its meat for grilling, as well as the wings. Trim the belly and back fins off the backbone, and cut off the head. A set of game or poultry scissors works best for this and helps you preserve your knife edge. Cut the wings away from the area underneath the gills and head with the scissors or shears.